Budd Friedman changed comedy. In 1963, a would-be Broadway producer opened a little after-hours place where theater performers could come and find a welcoming stage. Singers like Liza Minelli and Bette Midler would come and sing with the house piano player, Barry Manilow. Actors like Jason Robards and Albert Finney would hang out at the little coffee shop in Hell's Kitchen.
But it wasn't until the The Improvisation, later renamed The Improv, turned into an outlet for young comedians that the club and Friedman himself become the iconic star-maker that it still is today. Comedians such as Robert Klein, Robert Lewis, and Jay Leno learned their comic chops on the stage of the Improv, and they in turn made it famous. Now it's hard to name a comedian who hasn't known time before that famous brick wall: Billy Crystal, Larry David, Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Lily Tomlin, Andy Kaufman, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Bob Saget, Howie Mandel, Jerry Seinfeld, and so many more. Dustin Hoffman would show up to play the piano every once in awhile, and none other than Danny Aiello was the bouncer. It was the place to be in New York City.
All of the stories are here in The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up, from the beginning of Budd Friedman's dream through his success and his mentorship of some of the greatest comedians of the last fifty years. A wealth of comedy shows, movies, books, and television shows can all trace their origins to the comedians who learned on Friedman's stage, and the next generations of comedians will no doubt still have much to thank him for. The man turned comedy into art, and we are all the better for his contribution to popular culture.
Anyone who is interested in comedy should devour this book. With contributions from names throughout the world of entertainment, The Improv is a masterclass in making people laugh, in learning timing, and in the history of all our modern stand-up comedy legends. Required reading for all would-be comedians, most certainly, and fun reading for those of us who love to laugh. Very highly recommended.
Galleys for The Improv were provided by BenBella Books through NetGalley.com, with many thanks.